To gain full enjoyment out of this book you do need to have read the previous four
Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
This volume opens with the death of the Duchy. It is 1956 and with the passing of the
old lady the life of privelege found in the earlier chronicles comes to an end also.
The author does a brilliant job of bringing the reader up to speed with past
histories without holding up the continuing story.
In this post-war world, the family finds itself facing the challenges of a changing
world and economic climate, and are dealing with an uncertain future. This is a
new world, where financial securities of the past are jeopardised. Prosperity of
the family buisness can longer be guaranteed, consequently bold decisions have to
be taken concerning the fate of the beautiful country house which was the setting
of so many idyllic summers and Christmases in the past.
E J Howard draws the reader in fully and convincingly, so you feel involved in these characters
lives and care deeply about them. Howard's strength is bringing alive historical
detail and brings into play social, cultural and economic changes and how they impact
on the day to day lives of individuals.
This is a book reflecting on change in all its forms and nostalgic though it is - the
harshness of modern times and events do reflect the life of the author herself who at
the age of ninety has written an engaging and powerful closing chapter of the Cazalet
chronicles - a gem of a book.
on 9 November 2013
The Cazalet novels are modern classics, and I was so looking forward to this slightly unexpected bonus.
In the really important ways I wasn't disappointed. Howard is masterly at representing real life through the prism of fiction, it's high points and dull realities, pleasures and pains.
However (as another reviewer has said) there is the glaring error that it was Hugh's son William's twin who died at birth, not Simon's. Yet more than that, facts presented in the four previous novels have been altered. Simon was not told that his mother Sybil died by his Headmaster; he was brought home from school in time to say goodbye, when she was still conscious, a fact that upset his sister Polly who was only taken in to see her when she wasn't. In CASTING OFF Simon was also a success at University and set to be a doctor, confident and sure of his place in the world. This is not reflected in this book at all.
It makes me wonder how well the current editor actually knew the quartet of previous books. That grouch over, I loved the novel.
on 4 March 2014
Firstly, let me say that I loved the original four-book Cazalet saga. That's why I bought Book 5 and it's also why I've found it such a disappointment.
The first quarter seemed to re-tell the plot of the earlier novels unnecessarily - I can't imagine anyone who hasn't read the first four books would be interested in Book 5, so why bore the reader by going over the same ground? This links in with another problem I had with the fifth novel: Elizabeth Jane Howard seems to have lost her nerve. The earlier books were models of psychological insight, giving just enough information to convey the story, the characters' feelings, the era and the themes, without over-writing or explaining too much. She would move on from viewpoint to viewpoint with skill, verve and confidence, leaving it to the reader to fill in the gaps. In book 5, however, she seems to no longer do this - she fills in the gaps endlessly and in an often pedestrian manner. She has characters saying something and then feels the need to explain what they meant, as if the reader might not have got it. She loses the lightness of touch of the earlier novels and adds weight without depth.
I found the dialogue too, at times, rather inauthentic and dull, with some characters badly drawn (Teddy's Irish barmaid being a case in point). The children were unconvincing and twee, rather than delightfully comic as in the earlier novels, though I found Georgie more convincing than the others. The older characters generally retained their shape, though sometimes just became dull or else Howard seemed to forget them and they were barely mentioned.
In the earlier books, Howard used repetition of plot-lines in order to explore themes - for instance, the series of young women engaged in romantic liaisons of varying degrees of success with older men, from Edward's creepy molestation of his daughter to the touching romance between Archie and Clary. Many of these relationships revealed the exploitation of youth by unscrupulous older men, highlighting feminist issues perhaps - the number of exploitative men in the novels was extraordinary. However, the repetition by and large worked very well. However, in the fifth book, I felt the romantic plot-lines became repetitive in a boring way, in places almost Mills and Boonish, in others incredibly implausible (Neville and Juliet? Really?). I thought Louise was remarkably forgiving of her father!
There were several places where I almost decided to give up the fifth book but I stuck it out as a tribute to Elizabeth Jane Howard - the first four books are superb, and it is just sad really that she thought it wise to write a fifth so late in the day when her powers were waning. It isn't all bad however. I thought the description of the decline of the firm was masterful, and Rachel and Sid were well-drawn. But in the end it was lightweight, rather than light of touch, and heavy going.
Nine years on from the end of Casting Off: Cazalet Chronicles Book 4, All Change describes family coping with the decline of the Cazalets' wealth in post-war Britain. The children from The Light Years now have children of their own, and the future of Home Place is uncertain after the death of the Duchy. If you haven't read any of the other Cazalet Chronicles, then don't start here: go and read The Light Years: Cazalet Chronicles Book 1 and the rest, or you'll be lost in this enormous family. There are précis of the back story as each character is reintroduced, which will be helpful if it's a while since you've read the previous books, but I still found myself struggling to keep up with the names of the new children (though having the notes on the Cazalets to refer to will help). There was even a moment when I started to wonder if the author herself had forgotten who was who, but that was resolved later on. If you've read the rest, then you'll want to read this final chronicle. It is as enjoyable and fascinating as the others, following the threads of the different characters' lives. There was a moment towards the end that I thought was a little forced, however, and didn't quite fit with the general style of the chronicles. I felt the ending was less satisfactory and left more loose ends than that of Casting Off, but perhaps that's the point: the family's lives will go on, some happily, some less so, and a neat happy ending would probably have felt too contrived.
on 16 February 2016
When I spotted that this had been released in paperback, I actually gasped in delight. The original Cazalet quartet are among my all time favourite books, so All Change is like a wonderful parting gift from the always spectacular Elizabeth Jane Howard. Nobody does sprawling family sagas of quite the same quality, I heard the news of her death last year with great sadness. This novel seemed like a beautiful parting gift for all of us who wanted more. I have to admit though that I had some misgivings going in - the previous instalment Casting Off had provided a very satisfying resolution and as anyone who has ever discovered that joy of knitting will realise, when you cast off, the time has come to finish. It was lovely to meet the characters again, to spend time in their company, but All Change left me with more questions rather than fewer and rather than the comfortable feeling of everybody having received their just desserts, I left them feeling terribly sorry at the way things had turned out.
Elizabeth Jane Howard began the Cazalet saga shortly in the 1980s on the advice of her stepson Martin Amis, shortly after leaving his father Kingsley Amis. Her idea was that many war-era novels put family life in the background and Cazalets was designed to do the opposite, she ushered in her characters in the late 1930s for Light Years which ended as Mr Chamberlain came back with his Peace Paper. Marking Time covered the war years, as did Confusion and then Casting Off showed the family adjusting to the post-war world. Howard kept admirably well to her planned structure of covering ten years so it is interesting that she chose to jump forward to the 1950s for All Change.
It is hard to imagine a saga like this one being published today, all of the nostalgia for the inter-war years, even Downton Abbey has more subversive story-lines than Cazalets. Its strength always came from Howard's often very sparse prose that reveals a great deal without her ever having to tell the reader anything. Of course, Howard also wrote some of the most natural dialogue I have ever come across. Much of it was inspired by her own family life and her affection for her creation, despite their many flaws, always shone through. With a title like All Change, one might have been fooled into thinking that alterations were afoot but no, despite the changing times, the Cazalets remained firmly rooted in their habits. Alas, the modern world was ready to move on without them.
I found the time jump rather confusing. On the one hand, many of the main characters had sprouted various children who were at the chatting and making 'killing remarks' stage of life. On the other, most of the actual relationships remained frozen as they had been in 1948. Hugh and Edward were still not really speaking. Diana and Edward were still pretending to be happy while Edward realised what a mistake he had made in divorcing Villy. Rupert still pottered about and got on everyone's nerves by simply agreeing with the last person to speak to him. Polly and Gerald are still in newly-wed bliss, despite the eight years of marriage and four children ... but then, the reader would have wanted nothing less for Poll. The debacle of Edward's divorce probably would have benefited from a greater resolution in the intervening years however and the idea that the family had refused to really meet Diana seemed strange when the Duchy had invited her to stay in Casting Off.
The death of the Duchy in the opening chapter was a real loss. Her quiet chats in the roses to whichever family member in need of guidance were always lovely and despite her lack of business experience, it is hard to imagine things going so drastically wrong with her around. It surprised me that she was still apparently ignorant of her daughter's sexual orientation, I had truly thought that at the end of Casting Off, all that was clear and Sid had been gathered up in the family fold. In my head, I had pictured Sid firmly ensconced at Home Place and having a fine old time with Rachel. It was disappointing to read that their happiness had been postponed again. Still, Duchy's passing marked the moment when the Cazalet children became the senior generation, with their own offspring approaching the age they had been at the beginning of The Light Years. It is a moment that will come to us all.
The war years provoked quite a muddling of generations, with Rupert and Zoe's post-war child Georgie being about the same age as Clary's Harriet and Bertie. Hugh also had a daughter through his second marriage to Jemima. The odd thing was that so many of the children seemed like reruns of their forebears. Hugh and Jemima's Laura was very similar to Rupert's Juliet in Casting Off. Georgie was very like his elder half-brother Neville as a child. Howard does have an uncanny knack for writing childish dialogue without ever seeming mawkish or saccharine but it did feel a little strange. The strange one was Simon, who seemed to have taken over Christopher's part as resident Odd Fish, now that Christopher had become a monk and no longer able to participate in events. I can see why Howard wrote out Christopher who had outlived all interest but it seemed strange to simply replace him with Simon.
There was no word from Jessica's side of the family other than that they had a place in Costa del Sol, nor from Nora's rest home for veterans. Louise remained improbably employed aged thirty-five as a model and without apparent concern for her son who did not feature at all. Lydia only made a guest appearance. It was slightly disconcerting, like a television special where half of the original actors had other commitments. The strangest part though was Neville. I had particularly liked his character, his blunderbuss exterior which hid his inner insecurities, his over-grown schoolboy insensitivities, even the way that he irritated Polly before her wedding by repeatedly calling her Lady Fake. The idea that he changed over a decade into a louche, sleazy, would-be-incestuous creep was so disappointing. The whole storyline was ridiculous - incest cropped up in earlier novels when a drunken Edward made passes at Louise but the way that Howard seemed to sidle up to a consensually incestuous relationship and then sneak away again just seemed pointless. Not only did it seem ludicrous that Juliet should not be aware that Neville was her brother (surely Rupert would have at least mentioned him), but at fifteen, the whole thing seemed like grooming. It was the very lowest point of the novel for me.
Another strange character was Diana. She had been sharpening her talons at the end of Casting Off and Edward had obviously started to realise the rough bargain he had made for himself but I always felt that her position was understandable. She had waited and waited for Edward and gone past the point of truly loving him, but had no other way forward other than marrying him. It seemed simplistic to simply paint her as a gold-digger - she had loved Edward, she had suffered greatly to remain true to him and he took too long to make up his mind. I am not sure that Edward would have been satisfied had he remained with Villy - Edward's tragedy was his greed. The rest of the family trade stories that paint Diana in the worst possible light, constantly observing how ugly her hands are but I felt that she had rather unnecessarily been cast as the villain. Edward made his own bed, he had nobody to blame but himself if he had to lie in it.
So many of the characters had their Happy Ever After in Casting Off, yet All Change just seemed to show how there is truly no such thing. I was not interested in reading about failings in the central couples' relationships - as a committed reader of the series, I was invested and believed in them and had no desire for a 'will-they-split-won't-they-split' plot device. I did however have very little difficulty in believing in their financial troubles. The post-war world no longer valued class in the same way, the Brig's way of doing business was from a bygone era - they are weighed down by property, their firm is foundering and the simple name Cazalet does not have a value on its own. The Cazalet men do not seem to realise that failure is an option - methods of escape are suggested but never followed through. The bank manager who visits them to explain their fate feels sympathy for them 'to a point' but has lost respect - he is not of their class, but he knows his trade - not something that the Cazalets deemed important.
All Change was remarkable in its familiarity - twenty years after the previous volume was published and the characters were instantly recognisable. But while they had all stayed the same, the big change was that there would be no return to the world of Light Years, the harsh realities faced in the war years and the Cazalet world of high tea and picnics simply could not co-exist. Last weekend, I visited the ruins of an old country house which, like so many, was demolished after World War Two because the family could no longer afford it. So many families like the Cazalets were brought low by death duties, economic change and simple mismanagement. One of Teddy's girlfriends remarks that she had taken part in the last season of debutantes and there is a marked difference in the opportunities open to Clary the writer and Polly the event planner compared to their mothers - the times they were a-changing. We owe our National Health Service and our Welfare State to the post-war changes, but it is impossible not to feel sadness as Home Place is vacated for the very last time. The Cazalets were a strong family, a loving family and one has to feel hopeful for their resurgence, particularly since Elizabeth Jane Howard's death means that this truly was the very, very last volume.
This series was remarkable in how well Howard kept the reader's interest in such a vast range of characters. From babyhood, to childhood, to marriage and beyond, the reader followed as the family went through all of life's milestones and kept faith with each other even with the lengthy separations brought about by war. People may be dismissive of a story that takes place purely in the domestic sphere but to me, this has been a magnificent series which has taken us through a full gamut of emotions. I was truly startled during the coverage of Elizabeth Jane Howard's death about just how much emphasis was put on her personal life. Although it was admittedly colourful, her true worth comes from her talents as a writer. With All Change, I felt that Howard had loved her Cazalets just as much as I did, that she wanted to pay them one last visit before her death. Despite my gripes, I was so grateful to be able to see them again.
on 1 August 2016
I confess I hadn't noticed the continuity problems that others spotted - and they are substantial! This is slightly odd, as I read all five of the books after I'd seen that 'All Change' had been released in paperback (realising that to get the full 'hit' I'd need to read them all, in order). So the continuity lapses didn't bother me. Although it is very much a family saga, so much is going on in the present (the book's present, that is) that perhaps a nonagenarian author can be forgiven for forgetting some details. As others have said - less easy to forgive is an editor who let these things slip by. But then, are there even editors any more?
I found the book a fine conclusion to the series. The story of the Cazalets, across five books, is akin to the story of Widmerpool in 'A Dance to the Music of Time', across 12: a classic. Read them all!
on 3 January 2014
I start to write this having just learned of the death of the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard. One of her last interviews, with the Daily Telegraph, includes the telling sentence about the hiatus between Casting Off, the fourth Cazalet novel, and All Change - "absolute hell from a continuity point of view. You keep on having to remember what you called someone's chauffeur 15 years ago. It's quite hard work, that."
And it shows. All Change is a dreary, depressing read. The children lack the charm of the previous generation, and the quasi-incestuous storyline beggars belief (yes, I'm well aware that Edward molested the teenage Louise, but she reacted with revulsion. This particular "relationship" is beyond any kind of credibility). Diana turns into a monster promised in Casting Off. Villy continues as the wronged heroine. Simon turns into another Christopher. One particular death is a real shock which the readers could have been spared. I genuinely wish that Miss Howard, may she rest in peace, had stopped at four volumes and left us devotees with our memories.
on 14 May 2014
This book is rather disappointing. I thoroughly enjoyed the other four in the series but this is of inferior literary quality. It is less well structured and leaves the reader feeling that the author was tired and eager to complete the book. The characterisation is below par in that there is little development that is not cliched. A series of short jerky chapters which presumably is intended to indicate pace simply comes over as superficial. This is furthered by the fact that the more interesting characters have died! Without doubt a book too far.
on 3 September 2015
A leap forward in time; the fourth book in The Cazalet Chronicles left us in 1947 but this, the last in the series, runs from June 1956 to December 1958. Much has changed in the 11 years after VE Day: Queen Elizabeth succeeds to the throne after the death of her father King George VI, there are eight million refugees within Germany’s borders, President Eisenhower is elected. And in the world of the Cazalets, The Duchy dies.
This final book is an examination of the nature of love that persists despite pain and trouble. The cousins experience difficulties in love – affairs, divorce, misguided attachments and betrayal – while their parents are fractured by the failure of the family timber business. Suddenly there is no money: houses must be sold, servants let go after years of service, meals cooked and houses cleaned without help. Family love persists through this dark time and, as throughout the war, the Cazalet family emerges out the other side, shaped differently for the next decade.
Reading the last book in a well-loved series is always a mixed feeling: delight and loss. So it is with wonder that I consider how Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote this final book of the series when she was 90, completing it before she died in January 2014.
on 3 June 2014
“ALL CHANGE” is one of those novels that reveals a rich, colorful, and vivid canvas studded with a variety of interesting, complex, and compelling characters whose lives tug at the heart, bring out ripples of ticklish laughter, and captures the reader’s interest. It is the fifth novel in The Cazalet Chronicles, which are set in Britain and span from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The novel begins with the death, in the late spring of 1956, of 'the Duchy', who, at 89, was the matriarch of the Cazalets. Her daughter, Rachel, was at her side, as ever faithful, steadfast, loving, supportive, and wholly unselfish. Her brothers --- Hugh, Edward, and Rupert (varying in age from mid to late 50s) --- along with their families (many of whom will be familiar to readers of the previous 4 novels in the series) are caught up in a series of challenges and jarring changes in their lives in a world in which they feel woefully ill-equipped to live and thrive. Rachel, too, is faced with difficulties in her relationship with the love of her life, and with the possible loss of all that she has held dear. Elizabeth Jane Howard is a fantastic writer who knows how to make a word, a phrase, or a paragraph resonate with the reader in each chapter (which is named for a specific character or characters and serves to shed a special focus on the person or persons it highlights).
Once the reader becomes immersed in “ALL CHANGE”, he/she won’t want to leave. The lives of the people it relates become real and tangible. Indeed, for all its 592 pages, I fairly raced through this novel, never feeling bored or bogged down by minutae or tiresome details.
The Cazalets are people that I came to deeply care about in the 11 years I’ve known them. And now that I’ve finished reading “ALL CHANGE”, I feel utterly bereft. Elizabeth Jane Howard passed away last January. So, there will be no more Cazalet novels. While this causes me sadness and frustration --- because I would have loved to see many of the younger characters mature and flower in future decades --- I am grateful to have had the pleasure of this gift which Elizabeth Jane Howard has left us as her literary legacy.